What is SaaS vs Open Source | Open Source CMS (Content Management System) vs Software as a Service (Saas) for websites

August 8, 2012 By

Difference between SAAS & CMS | SAAS based websites Vs Open Source CMS WebsitesIf you are reading this, you have probably come to a crossroad while building a website or an online application.  Is it better to use a SaaS platform or is it better to use an Open Source Platform?  That is the question?   The answer to this dilemma will hopefully be determined below.

In this post, we define ‘Platforms’, ‘CMS’, ‘SaaS’ and ‘Open Source’, and we will break down the pros and cons of Software as a Service when compared to the pros and cons of an Open Source Content Management Systems.

What is a CMS (Content Management System)?

To begin, let’s understand what is a Platform:

Think of a platform as a framework within which software is developed and can perform its functionality.


  • Make life easy for developers
  • Allow the small tasks to be done effortlessly thus saving time
  • Are a collection of facilities or services that can be used to provide ease and efficiency of use

I often equate a Platform to a living city.  The city has facilities or departments set up to provide the essential needs of society such as Water, Electricity and Garbage disposal – to name a few.  In a city, if you want a phone line, you simply contact XXX-GET-PHONE, and tell them you want a phone line.

Now compare the scenario above to living in the jungle, with no support systems or facilities.  Trying to do something as simple as setting up a phone line may be possible, if you are extremely technically gifted, but not advisable, because of the high amount of labor required.   This would be what it’s like to work without a platform.

Now let’s consider a CMS (Content Management System).  A CMS Platform is basically a piece of software or a web based application that allows a user to manage the content (text and pictures) on their web presence.

What is SaaS (Software as a Service) model Platform?

A SaaS (Software as a Service)model Platform, is exactly what it sounds like. In simpler terms it means you are “leasing” the application or an instance of it for your client’s site.  You are paying for the use of the software, and not for the ownership of the software. With a SaaS Model Platform, a user “configures” the application for their use versus customizing it.  By configuring an application we mean, create templates for their design preferences, setup forms and so on.

We will discuss the Pros and Cons of Business Catalyst, a SaaS model CMS built by Adobe.  However, most of the comparisons also apply to similar SaaS platforms.

Pros and Cons of SaaS (Software as a Service)

Pros Cons
  • Cutting Edge Technology : The creators of the Application upgrade the application centrally & everyone benefits with the upgrade
  • Easy to Manage : The interface is very user friendly, the Site walk feature is great, excellent integrated analytics, full reporting
  • Resource Availability :Have many video tutorials that you can send to client to train them on functionality
  • System accommodates 80% of your Web Development needs
  • Integrated CRM is excellent for Small Business needs
  • CMS system is very intuitive & the site-walk feature is top notch
  • Integrated Email marketing plugs into the CRM nicely
  • Integrated Analytics & Reporting
  • Workflows are great tools for simple business automation
  • Some advanced features like API ‘s and Web apps allow us to push the envelope to a fair degree
  • Lower cost upfront
  • Faster development cycle as the developer doesn’t need to mess with any environments, server setups or code.  Infact, a slightly tech savvy designer can do the entire build
  • No Ownership : The client never really owns the site, it’s more so a lease
  • No Portability : The client can’t host the site on their servers
  • Higher Cost of Ownership: Conventional CMS hosting can be fairly inexpensive, but with SaaS model platforms, you often will pay for their system fees + hosting in a monthly amount, whereas with an Open source CMS, the system is free
  • Limited Customization :Since you have no access to code, you can get stuck when you are faced with advanced customization.
  • Limited “Specialists” : It’s tough to find developers who know the system inside out

What is Open Source CMS

Examples of Open Source Content Management Systems are Joomla, Website Baker, DNN, OS Commerce, WordPress, Drupal and Zen Cart to name a few. They come in a variety of coding languages such as PHP, ASP.net or Ruby on Rails.

Open Source essentially means that the Source code is open or freely available to absolutely anyone. The premise being that you can distribute what you know freely and openly so that everyone benefits. Putting this good karma out in the world will result in good coming back to you. It’s almost spiritual!!

Typically Open Source CMS systems are distributed under a GNU General Public License, which is an honor-based software listing system (so there are no monetary gains).

A GNU GPL License says that you can use, distribute, modify, integrate & customize the software any which way you like, as long as you credit the original developer for it explicitly. In other words,you openly state that your site platform is a derivative of Joomla (or whatever open source platform), you have taken the base Joomla, made some modifications, and used it as a development platform. With this approach you are in full compliance with the GPL license, but the moment you say that your platform has nothing to do with Joomla, and you built it from the ground up,you are in violation.

Pros and Cons of Open Source Content Management Systems

Pros Cons
  • Complete access to code – you can customize this type of system to any extent, be it talking to the customer’s point of sale system, integrating to their accounting system, creating embedded flash applications
  • Open Source code – easy to understand code, well organized
  • Support – hundreds of developers who know the system inside out are available all over the internet. In addition to that they have forums, blogs, videos and much more. You can Google any issue and find a fix
  • Applications & Modules :Lots of modules or widgets freely available. For example, if you wanted a real estate site, you could simply install a module and get done in 20 minutes
  • Low cost of ownership : Typical hosting fees range between 5-15 dollars a month for an average site
  • The Client “owns” the site so they can move it or host it anywhere, and they have access to all the code
  • Complex Setup & Install – a server has to be prepared and setup so you need an expert to do this
  • Managing a site can be complex as it is designed for a basic level of technical skill
  • High initial cost since a lot more work needs to be done to set this up

Once you are educated with the knowledge to determine if an Open Source Content Management System is the right fit, or a Software as a Service (Saas) model is better, you should consult a professional who can utilize these platforms and build you a solution that can maximize the functionality of each.

About the Author  : Google

Jamshaid Hashmi - Founder and CEO of ClickTecsA serial entrepreneur with extensive background in franchising and interests in multiple online business channels, Jamshaid (Jam) Hashmi has played an instrumental role in the franchise development and success of a renowned international franchise company. His most recent entrepreneurial interests include launching ClickTecs, a Digital Marketing company specializing in Search Engine Marketing and Social Media Marketing as well as Website and Mobile Application development. In 2007 he co-founded WSI Search Result, an online marketing company that supplies services to Internet Marketing Consultants. A sought after public speaker, Jam has been the featured keynote at many franchise conferences and international summits. He regularly trains ‘C’ Level Executives and supports both new and seasoned business owners on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Optimization, Mobile Marketing, Brand Reputation Management and Conversion & Measurement through web analytics. When he’s not scaling the heights of the Internet world, Jam ‘unwinds’ on extreme thrill-seeking adventures from the jungles of the Amazon to the highest summits. His passions include working with NGOs on humanitarian missions to areas around the world affected by disasters and poverty.